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Soup of This Day #260: They’re Gonna Get You Every Time

October 29, 2012

Toulouse-Lautrec's 'The Jockey'
Detail from Toulouse-Lautrec’s Le Jockey. From Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley:

     ”I see,” said Mr. Lambchop, reading the paper over his coffee cup, “that still another painting has been stolen from the Famous Museum. A Toulouse-Lautrec.”
     Mrs. Lambchop sipped her coffee. “That probably made it easy to steal,” she said. “Being too loose, I mean.”

Which works on several levels because, morally speaking, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a bit too loose, as evidenced by his death from alcoholism and syphilis at the relatively young age of 36. Given his talent it was a too-short life – Image: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1899. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This is a short post about people.

It is not, and I need to be clear about this, a post that is of brief duration – That is a piece that ironically would be about taller people.

It is instead a post about people who are short of stature. I feel qualified to write this because I am classified as being of below average height.

It wasn’t always this way – 10 years ago I was of an average height for an Australia adult male. But then kids got taller and somehow I got statistically shorter. This is not unique or indeed a new concept – In 1998 a Scientific American article suggested that over the previous 150 years the average man had gained 4 inches in height.

Which is cool – If that trend had been carried through history then I’d be looking to head on back to a time 2,475 years ago when the average man was 4 inches tall. I would therefore be a giant of all men and just about unbeatable in any sport you’d care to name, with the possible exception of horse-racing and let’s be realistic about that anyway – How’s a 4-inch tall man going to get up onto a horse?

They’d need tiny, tiny horses. Or they could ride rats. Either way I’d still win and I’d do so without having to fast myself to a shadow like a modern jockey – They freak me out a little.

Essentially what I’m thinking of here is the movie Willow, where the Brownies were feisty little people around the 4 inch high mark and to a 14 year old boy Joanne Whalley’s Sorsha was smoking hot, even if her fictional mother was a despotic sorceress with a fondness for turning people into pigs.*

For the record I’m now grown up and believe that my wife is way hotter than Sorsha plus for a bonus my mother-in-law is really quite nice and not at all prone to casting evil spells.

But that’s off topic. What this post is really about is sporting people like Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues. All 10’10” of them.

I grew up at around average height so Spud, who topped out a couple of inches shy of that at 5’7″, was a hero of mine. For a start he defied a whole bunch of expectations and made his way through to the National Basketball Association (NBA), which is as good as it gets for a hoops player.

And despite being in a sport where tall is average, he wasn’t just a novelty. Nope Spud plied his trade in the NBA for the better part of 13 years, averaging 9.9 points per game across 814 games.

Oh, and in 1986 he won the Slam Dunk comp.

At 5’7″.

According to Wikipedia his array of dunks included:

‘… the elevator two-handed double pump dunk, the one-handed off the backboard one-handed jam, a 360-degree helicopter one-handed dunk, a 180-degree reverse double-pump slam, and finally, the 180-degree reverse two-handed strawberry jam from a lob bounce off the floor.’

I’d struggle with that lot even if you lowered the rim from it’s regulation 10′ height down to 6′.

Muggsy Bogues did not win the Slam Dunk contest. This was no surprise as he is a whole 4″ shorter than Spud. He did however manage 14 seasons in the NBA, averaging 7.7 points per game. Throughout that career he collected 39 blocks including a memorable effort in 1993 when he shut down an attempted shot by All-Star Patrick Ewing.

Who is 7′ tall.

You could make an argument that Muggsy’s blocks and Spud’s dunks are outliers – Extraordinary efforts beyond even the almost-average-heighted folk like Longworth72. And that’d be true to a certain extent – Both players were point-guards and that is a role typically held by your less-tall people, mostly because speed of hands and feet is more prized than height.

Tall people are by-and-large slower. Except Usain Bolt who is in his own way like the Spud Webb of running. Only in reverse.

So there are roles in sport for those not as gifted in height – And I’m not talking about jockeys either – They really do freak me out a little.

No, I’m thinking of roles like that of a coxswain in rowing.

The cox, as they are more commonly known, carries out a number of key functions in rowing. For a start, they steer the boat, either via the rudder or by telling the rowers to just go a little harder on 1 side. They also set the stroke rate and make sure that the team is working as 1.

But they are not actually rowing themselves and so it’s important that they are as light as is allowed. This doesn’t naturally mean that they will be short but since taller generally equates to heavier, the average cox tends to be of the diminutive type.

For extra coolness it’s worth pointing out that the modern cox utilises a fantastic piece of equipment known as a cox box. This is a kind of dashboard for coxes, providing information such as stroke rates and timing intervals. It also functions as an amplifier, directing the cox’ voice through speakers set along the length of the boat.

In rowing you want your cox to be heard.

There is no coxswain in volleyball. Mostly because the name ‘coxswain’ literally means ‘boat servant’ and since there is no boat in volleyball then there is nothing for a coxswain to serve.

Which is sort of like a libero.

A libero is a unique kind of player on a volleyball team. They have nothing to serve on the volleyball court either – They do not serve the ball and they do not block at the stupidly tall net. Instead they roam the middle of the court as a specialist defender, agilely throwing themselves around, in a way that the 7′ behemoths that surround them can’t. So they are typically shorter, sometimes below average height even.

This possibly might explain why Tom Cruise, who is only 5’7″, is playing beach volleyball with the boys in Top Gun.

Either he’s the libero for Goose or they lowered the net.

Libero translates as ‘free’ and that’s a good name for it – You get to be free of the constraints of body size that define others on the court and you get to wear a shirt of contrasting colour to your teammates. This allows you to stand out from the crowd and means you are more likely to be noticed by the single men or women.

This then is how I’m looking at my own height – It makes me free.

I’m free to dunk or not. Free to block Patrick Ewing or not. Free to steer a boat or to row. Or not. Free to float around the volleyball court, choosing my moves, choosing to stay low and choosing my threads.

Freedom is just a short step down the ladder.

*Link does not depict people being turned into pigs. Does have the hot Joanne Whalley. Go and buy the movie people.

They’re Gonna Get You Every Time

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